What is a primary source?
Primary sources are original artifacts or documents. They offer contemporary accounts from participants or people directly involved in an event. To learn about secondary sources, see our Secondary Sources page.
- Diaries and literary memoirs
- Letters and correspondence
- Artistic works (musical and visual)
- News segments and transcripts
- Legal documents and statistics
Why use primary sources?
Primary sources enable you to work with the raw material and draw your own conclusions.
How can I tell if something is a primary source?
The following questions can help you determine if you have a primary source:
- Author: What is the author’s relationship to the material or event described?
- Purpose: What is the purpose of the content?
- Publication Date: Is the date of the publication close to the event described?
Where can I find primary sources?
- Enter the type of primary source you’re looking for in the first box (narratives, correspondence, music scores, etc.)
- Change the drop-down menu next to the first search box from “Keyword” to “Subject”
- In the second box, type a related keyword (author, event, geographical location, etc.)
Articles and Newspapers:
- Newspaper Source (EBSCO) – Contains U.S. newspapers, international newspapers, newswires, newspaper columns, and TV and radio news transcripts
- Historical Newspapers – Find Early-American Newspapers, African American Newspapers, and much more
- Early American Imprints, 1639 -1800 and Early American Imprints, 1801-1819 – Find several types of primary source documents, browse by topic or search
- In the “All Nexis Uni” option category select “News”
- Under “Article Type” select “Broadcast Transcripts” and press “Search” to apply this filter
- Enter search terms in box and click “Search”
- Use options on result page to focus your results
Speeches and Interviews:
- Academic Search Ultimate (EBSCO)
- Under “Search Options,” scroll down to the “Limit your results” section
- Under “Document type,” select “Speech” or “Interview.” To search both simultaneously hold down the “Control” key when making your selection
- University Archives: Office records, publications, and personal papers from the University and the Urbana-Champaign campus
- Student Life and Culture Archives: Collections related to student life and culture on the national level and at the University of Illinois
- IDEALS: Research and scholarship by faculty, staff, and students at the University of Illinois
- Illinois History and Lincoln Collections: Material on Illinois and local history, in addition to other collections
- Digital Collections for Historical Research: A list of digital history collections. Great for finding historical primary source documents such as letters and diaries
- New York Public Library Digital Collections: Provides free and open access to over 685,000 images digitized from the The New York Public Library’s vast collection
- American Memory Project (a Library of Congress initiative): Offers a diverse collection in a variety of formats (prints, photographs, letters, reports, sheet music, recordings, maps, etc.)
- National Archives: A huge collection of photographs, documents, reports, and more
- Congress.gov: Find legislative information and more
For more help with identifying primary sources, see the video below.